Illegal Burmese timber still sold to China

Oct 21, 2009 (DVB), Deforestation in Burma continues to be a problem despite a drastic reduction in illegal timer exports into China, an environmental group has revealed.

Illegal timber sales to China have dropped by 70 percent since 2005, according to the UK-based Global Witness.

A report released by the group, A Disharmonious Trade, warns that illegal timber continues to leave Burma, often bypassing official checkpoints under the cover of darkness.

According to the report, over 90 percent of the 270,000m3 of rough timber and 170,000m3 of sawn timber imported into the Kunming district of China originated from illegal sources.

"Clearly action taken by authorities in China and Burma to combat illegal logging in Kachin state has had a significant positive impact," said the report.

"But they should do more to close down the remaining industry, which is almost wholly reliant on the illegal timber supply from Burma."

The report also warns that widespread logging has lead to "serious environment and social problems".

Burma's northern Kachin state, which borders southern China, is renowned for its biodiversity, but the rampant deforestation caused by logging has had a devastating effect on the natural environment.

Jon Buckrell, head of policy at Global Witness, told DVB today that "in terms of biodiversity there is nothing left in the areas that have been logged".

Buckrell speculated that several factors had caused the decline, including attempts by China to garner a better image as a "good citizen" on the international stage. This change comes despite the fact that China has no laws limiting the imports of illegally sourced timber.

"Although it may be against the law in Burma, Papua New Guinea and Soloman Islands, or wherever else China is sourcing its timber, it is not actually illegal to import that timber into China," he said.

"So without legislation like the US Lacey Act [which includes a ban on Burmese timber imports to the US], it is difficult for authorities to take action."

According to Global Witness, however, several US firms continue to advertise Burmese timber on their websites, apparently bypassing the Lacey Act.

Reporting by Matthew Cunningham

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